Macbeth, The Globe, 9 May 2012
The beginning of this Polish production from Teatr im. Kochanowskiego was intriguing. As the audience arrived, Macbeth (Michał Majnicz) and Banquo (Przemysław Kozłowski) sat in armchairs dressed in tracksuits, wounds bandaged, checking their phones with bored expressions on their faces.
Transvestite witches made their way on stage from the yard, teasing and joking with the groundlings. Instead of meeting the two soldiers on a heath, they actually visited Macbeth’s home to deliver gifts. One of the witches, Lola, fancied Banquo, which possibly explained the favouritism towards him in the prophecies they delivered.
The transvestite witches were frequent house guests. Although they looked unusual, there was nothing really paranormal about them to justify their powers of precognition. But they did provide some entertainment with their renditions of burlesque classics such as Mein Herr that peppered the action.
Duncan (Grzegorz Minkiewicz) dressed like a gangster in a natty suit with a wad of dollar bills sticking out of his jacket pocket. His son Malcolm (Adam Ciołek), looking like the wastrel scion of a crime family, nearly fell out of his chair when he heard that Duncan’s title would pass to him.
Everyone gathered at the Macbeth residence for a party. The transvestites were there. Duncan took his shirt off and danced with Lady Macbeth (Judyta Paradzińska) like a drunk in a nightclub. He did not have any of the virtues that should have pleaded against his taking off. Of the two, Macbeth seemed the sympathetic figure.
Lady Macduff (Aleksandra Cwen), the spitting image of Spice Girls era Emma Bunton rocked a pram. She seemed an unusual match for Macduff (Mirosław Bednarek) who, in his corduroy suit, resembled a seventies polytechnic lecturer.
Duncan slept off the night’s excesses in a chair. Macbeth crept up on him, but was surprised by Banquo. When Macbeth turned round we could see two daggers tucked in to the back of his trousers.
With Banquo gone, Macbeth stabbed Duncan in the stomach to the tune of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, the theme tune to the film Kill Bill.
One of the best features of this quirky production was the central relationship between the Macbeths. Lady Macbeth wrapped herself round her husband like a vine and he walked a few paces with her clung to him during their preparations for the murder.
Seeing the blood on her husband’s hand, Lady Macbeth immediately tried to wash it off, divesting Macbeth of his splattered clothes. This clever touch foreshadowed her own compulsive washing later in the play.
Macbeth licked the blood from her when she returned from laying the daggers by the grooms. When she realised the full horror of what they had perpetrated, she screamed, waking the other party guests, who raised the alarm on finding Duncan dead. The witches laughed at the dead body.
With no equivalent of the Porter scene, some subsequent action was telescoped into one sequence. Sitting on deckchairs in bathing suits, the men read in a newspaper how the grooms were prime suspects. Macbeth was proclaimed king, causing Banquo to remark on how Macbeth now had all he wanted.
Macbeth bribed, of all people, Rosse (Leszek Malec) and Lenox (Michał Świtała) with a suitcase full of cash to kill Banquo, which led us into the interval.
Chairs were set out in a line for the coronation party guests, and Macbeth ceremonially put on Duncan’s sequin shoes. The ghost of Banquo, whose murder was not staged, appeared in the line of party guests. Macbeth recovered from the shock by allowing himself to be fellated by one of the witches while Lady Macbeth, now pregnant, looked on.
Macbeth sought more assurance about his future from the witches who delivered more prophecies stood round a large dining table. He was particularly reassured about the impossibility of Birnam Wood moving to Dunsinane.
Lady Macduff watched as her children played with bubble blowing guns. The production’s all-purpose murderers, Rosse and Lenox, surprised the family and Lady Macduff was brutally raped and her baby strangled in its pram.
Macbeth overturned the large table and sat in it to watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalking with a bottle of sleeping pills. She washed herself in the same plastic bowl she had used to wash Macbeth. After a very moving display of erratic behaviour, she finally retired and downed the bottle of pills in one.
The scenes set in England were all cut so we saw nothing of the invasion preparations apart from Macbeth getting his armour from Seyton (Grzegorz Minkiewicz) and the news of his wife’s death. In one of the productions more touching moments, he cradled her dead body.
The English army in their camouflage jackets rushed the stage and crowded round Macbeth to kill him. They turned around to reveal t-shirts under their jackets bearing the words “Las Birnamski” the Polish for Birnam Wood.
And that was the end.
The big question was: where was Macduff? His wife had been raped, and his family murdered. Yet he said nothing and was invisible when Macbeth met his comeuppance. He could have at least led the English forces or said something to make the end of the play a fitting climax to the preceding action.
It was a pity that a production that had shown such promise in its treatment of the central characters should fail to treat the peripheral, but equally important roles, with the respect they required.
Without any of the scenes showing the preparation for the final battle, its significance was completely dissipated.
Looked at in this light, the transvestite witches began to look like a gimmick: an attention-grabbing feature that distracted attention away from the production’s glaring faults.